October 14, 2009 Archives

Due Today:

Ex 4: Review

1) Read and analyze a professional book review of a recent book you have read (for class or for pleasure). Blog a brief response, linking to the review if possible. How does this book review differ from other genres that you have read? What is the audience for a book review? How well does the book reviewer know the book?  How does a book review differ from a plot summary or a SparkNotes analysis?

2) Write your own book review, 2-3 pages. Upload to Turntin.com.

Note that people read book reviews in order to determine whether they want to invest the time in purchasing the book.

A book review is written for a reader who has not read the work.

This is very different from a literary analysis, where you're constantly reminded that your intended reader already knows the book well.

Tips and Guidelines

Jargon and Genre

If you are familiar with the fan following of any work, you might be used to talking with other people who share your background knowledge of the genre. Rather than 1) using obscure genre-specific terms without any explanation, or 2) interrupting your essay frequent interruptions, so that your reader knows the difference between a k'tharn (a sword used by the Plains nomads in the realm of the Unknown Times, with a core of cursed blood taken from a clan enemy's heart) and a ba'tti'kak (kind of like a small k'tharn, only way awesomer), reduce your reliance on jargon. (If the jargon is especially well-handled, or especially confusing, it's worthwhile to note that in a section on its own.)


Rather than writing for the fans (who already have their own opinions), consider writing for a reader who is new to the genre. Is this work a good introduction? What more mainstream literary works or movements are echoed in the book you've chosen?

Suggested Readings

The Purdue Online Writing Lab has a brief handout, Writing a Book Review, which begins by explaining the difference between a "book report" (written for the teacher who assigned it, by a student who is trying to prove he or she read an assigned text) and a "book review" (written for an interested reader who has not yet read the book, and who is in fact trying to decide whether to invest the time and money).

How to Write a Book Review (Bill Asenjo)
  • Hook the reader with your opening sentence. Set the tone of the review. Be familiar with the guidelines -- some editors want plot summaries; others don't. Some want you to say outright if you recommend a book, but not others.
  • Review the book you read -- not the book you wish the author had written.
  • If this is the best book you have ever read, say so -- and why. If it's merely another nice book, say so.
  • Include information about the author-- reputation, qualifications, etc. -- anything relevant to the book and the author's authority.
Book Reviews (Colorado State University)
A review is a critical essay, a report and an analysis. Whether favorable or unfavorable in its assessment, it should seem authoritative. The reviewer's competence must be convincing and satisfying. As with any form of writing, the writer of a book review is convincing through thorough study and understanding of the material, and opinions supported by sound reasoning. (See this document on reviewing nonfiction, poetry, and other types of books, including travel and children's)

Slashdot Book Review Guidelines
(These are written for the benefit of highly technical readers who know a lot about the subject but may not have much experience writing for a general readership.)

The style tips apply pretty well to any informative writing.) 
  • Avoid cliches (this book, which is better than sliced bread, cuts through the clutter to break down to the nuts and bolts of the real brass tacks at the heart of the matter). Write plainly.
  • Go easy on the exclamation marks and glib hyperbole ("This book belongs on every developer's desk!" sounds too much like "You're not going to pay a lot for this muffler!")
  • Be cautious in general about suprelatives [sic] and strong adjectives. Don't say a book is "unsurpassed" or "the best available" on a given topic without doing some actual comparisons to likely contenders. Some other words of praise or derision are often used with too little backing evidence: rather than just calling a book "excellent," "sloppy," "boring," etc., provide concrete examples from the text that demonstrate these qualities.
  • Watch your background. Even if each one is sensible by itself, too many adjectives in a sentence (or a review) makes it look like adjective soup. In particular, intensifiers like "very" and "extremely" in most cases can be excised to everyone's benefit.
  • Rhetorical questions are fine in small doses, but not large ones. More than a few rhetorical questions in a review can make it sound breathless and silly.

Signing Up

No more than 2 students per class period. Sign up by posting a comment indicating that you'd like to present for the day.  I'll respond by creating a separate blog entry listing you as a presenter (putting you on the agenda for the day.)  Please sign up at least two class periods ahead of your requested date.

The Presentation

Perform a close reading of a selection (3 minutes), AND introduce a peer-reviewed scholarly work (3 minutes) that you can use to launch a discussion (5-10 minutes) on a non-obvious, non-trivial point related to the reading. ("The reading" might include a literary work mentioned in Roberts, or the primary text we're scheduled to discuss for the day.)  I will help the discussion along, but you're free to set your own goals.

I suggest that you prepare by writing a richly-linked, informal blog post, which explains your inquiry process. This can be conversational, and it can mention dead ends and false leads.

Rather than read from this blog entry during class, I ask instead that you prepare a different presentation, one that emphasizes the strongest points you've found at the end of your inquiry (rather than walking us through the whole process that led you here.)

After the presentation, e-mail me a reflective summary, in which you assess the class reaction.

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